* Spot gold neutral in $1,488-$1,523.61/oz range - technicals
* Gold may test towards $1,455 if Fed disappoints - analyst (Updates prices)
By Eileen Soreng
Sept 17 (Reuters) - Gold prices were little changed on Tuesday as traders largely remained on the sidelines, awaiting a widely expected cut to interest rates by the U.S. Federal Reserve this week and a steer on its longer-term plans.
Spot gold eased slightly, dipping by 0.1% to $1,495.74 an ounce by 0730 GMT, having risen as much as 1% in the previous session on tensions in the Middle East.
U.S. gold futures were down 0.4% at $1,505.6.
“The market is searching for a new catalyst ... The 25 basis point rate cut is relatively priced in already, but what traders are really looking for is forward guidance,” said Phillip Futures analyst Benjamin Lu.
A quarter-point cut to U.S. interest rates is widely expected when the Fed issues its next policy statement on Wednesday. It would be the central bank’s second such cut after lowering rates in July for the first time since 2008.
A press conference by Fed Chair Jerome Powell is scheduled to follow the release of the central bank’s statement.
The Fed’s language and new economic projections will be examined closely, given the backdrop of a bruising U.S.-China trade war, stimulus by the European Central Bank and a stream of weak manufacturing data that hints at larger potential problems for the United States.
“If the Fed goes against market expectations, there is a strong possibility that we may see a short-term reversal (in gold prices) and a quick sharp test towards $1,455,” Lu said.
Attacks on Saudi Arabia’s main oil refinery at the weekend have also entered the equation, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to apply more pressure on the Fed to lower interest rates.
“It appears conviction remains positive so long as gold hangs around $1,500,” AxiTrader strategist Stephen Innes said in a note, adding that the market has been caught between hedging against a possible U.S. military response on Iran and position-squaring ahead of the Fed’s two-day meeting.
Meanwhile, currencies of oil-exporting countries held firm and the U.S. dollar found broad support as the attacks on Saudi oil facilities and the threat of military action in the region buoyed crude prices.
On Monday Trump said it looked like Iran was behind the attacks but emphasised that he did not want to go to war.
On the technical front, spot gold looked neutral in a range of $1,488-$1,523.61, an escape from which could suggest a direction, according to Reuters technical analyst Wang Tao.
Elsewhere, silver fell 0.3% to $17.79 an ounce, platinum dipped 0.4% to $932.81 and palladium was down 0.5% at $1,596.49 after touching a record high of $1,626.81 in the previous session. (Reporting by Eileen Soreng in Bengaluru Editing by David Goodman)